Samantha and Vincent Bustamante were married barely two weeks before the Army sent them to opposite ends of the globe. For the next year, the best they could do was write letters, talk on the phone and send FaceTime videos to catch up.
Until Tuesday night.
At Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Vincent Bustamante finally got to kiss his bride again. It was a tearful reunion for the couple after being married in Fresno last November and then quickly shipping out with the Army to South Korea (for Vincent) and Kuwait (for Samantha).
“The best part is that we don’t have to hide anymore,” Samantha says.
Samantha (Olson) Bustamante, 19, who grew up in Visalia, never expected to fall in love after joining the Army in January 2014, and neither did Clovis native Vincent Bustamante, 25. But there they were, on the same shuttle van en route to San Jose for their induction.
“It was fate,” Vincent says. “From the moment I saw her, as soon as we met I looked into her eyes, and before she even said anything I knew she was special.”
The two hit it off instantly, exchanging phone numbers and cheesy jokes. After saying goodbye to their parents for the last time, they were strangers and yet there for each other at the same time, Vincent says. Both were placed in the communications field and flown to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training and then sent to Fort Gordon, Ga., for six months of advanced training, where the two became even closer and fell in love.
It was fate. From the moment I saw her, as soon as we met I looked into her eyes, and before she even said anything I knew she was special.
“We both grew up in the Central Valley. We both joined at the same time. It was just meant to be – as cheesy as that sounds,” Samantha says.
They were in different companies during training, but could be together during free time. They say they expected a lot from the Army – but not love.
Vincent’s father, Al Bustamante, served in Vietnam in the Army and noted just how special their circumstances were.
Serving “can be a stressful situation, and to be honest I think it (their relationship) did help,” Al Bustamante says. “They leaned on each other. Mentally, emotionally it helped them both go through the trials of the service.”
Vincent says it wasn’t the most romantic experience at times, but the couple always felt comfortable with each other, always felt an intimate, personal connection. Their first date was at a Denny’s, and many followed just casually at a mall or grabbing a bite to eat.
“She’s funny, a little nerdy, but I love it,” Vincent says. “She has a huge heart and is very caring.”
Samantha says that when he slipped her a note saying that he cared for her and was praying for her, she knew he was the one.
Vincent proposed near the end of their training, just before they each had two weeks leave. They were married at the Fresno County Clerk’s Office on Nov. 14, 2014.
We both grew up in the Central Valley. We both joined at the same time. It was just meant to be – as cheesy as that sounds.
One of the hardest parts of their relationship was having to hide their affections during training, Samantha says. Vincent says that even though relationships in the Army aren’t forbidden, it was advised against for co-workers. All their friends were supportive, however, teasing them about their relationship. Back in Fresno, they didn’t have to hide anymore.
The Army didn’t see husband and wife – just two communications specialists needed in different places. The couple felt the distance.
Over time, they adjusted to each other’s schedules and time zones and found a way to make their long-distance relationship work. With a six-hour time difference, Samantha explains, Vincent would record FaceTime video messages in the morning and send them, waiting for her to see when she woke up. They wrote letters for a time and talked every day through the Internet.
“Being apart, trying to navigate those waters, that was definitely hard, but I think it made us even stronger,” Vincent says.
For their airport reunion Tuesday night, Vincent bought Samantha a dozen pink roses. He had surprised his own dad by flying in a day earlier than expected, on Dec. 3. But their entire families had planned the surprise meeting at the airport when Samantha’s flight came in from Denver at 8 p.m.
The two will spend Christmas at home before shipping out to Fort Hood, Texas, where they will spend the remainder of their time in the Army. Vincent has already found a house off-base for them and is excited to finally be able to live with his wife.
“I found a home,” Vincent says, “and now I’m just happy we’re going to be spending the rest of our lives together.”
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614